In a significant development for the autonomous vehicle industry, regulators in the U.S. state of California have granted approval to robotaxi companies Cruise and Waymo to operate their driverless taxi services 24/7 across all of San Francisco, allowing them to charge passengers for their services. The decision, which followed hours of public comment, signals a major step in the expansion of driverless technology into everyday urban transportation.

The California Public Utilities Commission voted 3-to-1 in favour of allowing Cruise and Waymo to offer their driverless taxi services around the clock. Prior to this decision, Cruise was limited to providing fare-charging rides only between 10 pm and 6 am in specific parts of the city, while Waymo could charge fares only when human drivers were present in the vehicle. The new approval allows both companies to charge fares for their fully autonomous rides and operate at any time of day or night.

While the decision paves the way for autonomous ride-hailing, it also faces resistance from various quarters. Critics, including city transportation leaders and first responders, have expressed concerns about the technology. The San Francisco Fire Department has reported instances of driverless vehicles obstructing emergency response units, prompting concerns about the safety and functionality of autonomous vehicles in complex urban environments.

Despite the challenges and debates, the approval signifies a significant milestone for autonomous vehicle companies like Cruise and Waymo, indicating that driverless taxi technology is moving closer to becoming an integral part of everyday transportation. The approval also raises questions about the balance between technological advancement and ensuring the safety and well-being of all road users.